5 Ways 2013-14 NHL Season Will Prove Western Conference Superiority
The NHL Western Conference has been playing at a disadvantage for years. Additional travel made them more tired and less practiced than their Eastern Conference brethren.
The San Jose Sharks travel more than any other team in the 2013-14 NHL season, their mileage increase is minimal compared to teams in the former Atlantic Division that used to play maybe five games more than two hours away from home. That and an East Coast bias hid Western Conference superiority.
Despite this disadvantage that is often more pronounced in the playoffs, five of the last seven Stanley Cup champions won the Campbell Trophy first.
Fans in the Eastern Conference may already be offended. It is not their fault they do not know about Western Conference teams. Media outlets are profit-bound to cater to their audiences, so more of the highlights come from a region with longer hockey traditions and more fans.
Recent Olympic projections were rejected as unworthy of further reading for merely saying Logan Couture is a star. This obviously comes from not seeing enough San Jose games to appreciate his two-way play that makes him more valuable but less noticed.
If one never sees someone play or notice him on NHL.com's list of scoring leaders, he cannot be a star. Real experts like The Hockey News knew enough to rank him as already the 28th-best player (17th-best forward) in the NHL. Still short of his 25th birthday, there are only two younger forwards ranked higher.
Fear The Fin did a great breakdown of East Coast bias in the Vezina Trophy, voted once again to an Eastern Time Zone goalie by NHL general managers. Whether the bias exists among those that know hockey may be debatable, but the awareness of fans is understandable.
After all, they battle not just less exposure but a conference that spends almost half its ice time after bedtime in the Eastern Time Zone. This slideshow shows five things that will happen this season to make it known which conference was better before realignment.
The Presidents' Trophy goes to the team with the best regular-season record.
The first season does not matter but for where it places a team in the postseason. Ask the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks, who managed just two wins in the playoffs following their 117-point season that led the NHL.
Recent history is not exactly on the side of the Presidents' Trophy winner. Before the Chicago Blackhawks pulled off the feat in 2013, none had won the Stanley Cup in over a decade.
At the same time, before the previous year, it had been won by only one non-division winner in eight seasons. The most any team can do in the regular season is finish with the best record, and for the second straight year, that will be Chicago.
Another way the Western Conference can show superiority over the Eastern Conference is to win when the two sides match up during the regular season.
The San Jose Sharks will be one of a majority of teams in the new West to win more games than they lose against eastern teams in the 2013-14 NHL season. The overall head-to-head record will also favor the Western Conference.
Moreover, that will be all the more pronounced when considering the conferences as they were prior to realignment...
The Eastern Conference lost the mediocre-at-best Winnipeg Jets in the realignment agreed to over the summer. In return, it gained two better teams.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are already better and on the rise. The "rebuilding" year for the formerly Western Conference powerhouse Detroit Red Wings ended in taking the eventual 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the second round of the playoffs.
Watch how those teams do this season to see how much tougher it was out west. The teams that stayed in the Western Conference will also benefit, though it will help Central Division teams more than the San Jose Sharks and their Pacific Division rivals.
The Jets contended for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference in 2013 but will be several points short this season. The Jackets and Wings were the ninth and eighth seeds in the Western Conference, respectively, and both have a good shot at getting home ice in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
True, the conference is not the only variable, but there were too few changes for any of the three teams to not recognize that having all three teams shift that much against their new competition means something.
Stanley Cup Championship
The most important thing the Western Conference can do to prove its superiority is win the Stanley Cup for the 12th time in the last 20 seasons.
You can check out my predictions for the entire conference playoffs written in my role as San Jose Sharks Examiner. There are no predictions for the Eastern Conference, but one quarter of its playoff teams will be Western Conference transplants.
Most of all, the Stanley Cup winner will be a team that remained out west from last season.
Even though the travel time will be evened out some, the Western Conference will still have more travel than the Eastern Conference. The San Jose Sharks have the heaviest schedule in the 2013-14 NHL season.
Thus, everything that was accomplished will still be done through not only more jet lag but fewer practices. In past seasons, Eastern Conference teams often had a dozen more practices than their Western Conference brethren.
If practice does not help, why do it? Even if one would deny the fatigue of travel (probably from never having done much of it), lack of practice time is an unmistakable disadvantage for a Western Conference that will nonetheless accomplish the four aforementioned feats.